Greenhouse Manage Andrew Stairs adresses the forum.

Greenhouse Manage Andrew Stairs adresses the forum.

Growing concepts, feeding a community

A forum on agriculture introduced the community to some ideas Nak'azdli is working on.

Fort St. James has a farmer’s market through the summer, fishing and hunting are common sources of meat and you can buy local beef in stores, yet locally produced food does not make up the majority of the community’s diet.

But Nak’azdli is looking at changing this.

With the construction of one greenhouse, the Mt. Pope Greenhouse project began production this year, growing a range of tomatoes to see what would work in local conditions. Tomatoes were sold in the Sana’aih Market for the community later in the summer, once the necessary cleaning processes were in place.

It was a small step, but the first step in what could be a major project for the community and could lead to more sustainable food production.

A forum on the project to collect feedback and ideas from the community gathered around 50 people in Kwah Hall on Nov. 28 for the open forum on agriculture and food production on Naka’zdli territory and included guests from the Ministry of Agriculture office in Smithers and Community Futures.

The Greenhouse Manager Andrew Stairs highlighted what had been achieved so far with the first greenhouse, through the first sale of tomatoes to businesses in the community.

A secondary crop of strawberries was also planted, with first production expected next year.

The forum offered Stairs an opportunity to discuss a proposed model farm project, which would expand the food production to more greenhouses, raised beds, a vegetable field and potentially even livestock.

The forum also brought forward the idea being proposed by the Upper Fraser Fisheries Conservation Alliance to help offset Fraser  River salmon population decline with extensive lake stocking.

But the focus was on agriculture, and Stairs introduced the proposed model farm and then allowed people to form breakout groups for discussion and brainstorming on the specific topics of: greenhouse crops, medicinal plants, field vegetables, livestock and fish.

There are many issues left to address, Stairs acknowledged, including land use issues and competing interests with industry.

The forum was to get community involvement and start people thinking about food by “collecting ideas that can be translated into action,” said Stairs.

He said the sky is the limit for ideas, but they have to be grounded in reality.

After the forum, Stairs said he will be compiling the information and ideas into a report he will present to the Nak’azdli Band, likely next spring.

While he said it is a bureaucratic process, the steps need to be taken and after he has prioritized the results of the first consultation, this can be used to guide the future investments in infrastructure.

Stairs said elder Betsy Leon put it best when she opened the forum by talking about Nak’azdli’s past traditions with sustainable food production, when the community had their own gardens.

He said  even though we live in north-central B.C., it is possible to have a viable agricultural enterprise.

Agriculture could provide long-term employment for the community, said Stairs, while mining and forestry provide short-term resource-dependent jobs.

“We’re looking to the past to create the future,” said Stairs.